Anna Dumitriu is the Director of the Institute of Unnecessary Research and an artist whose work is deeply grounded into scientific research. I met her a few weeks ago at the Mobile Music Workshop in Amsterdam where she was presenting Bio-Tracking, a mobile phone based exhibition using GPS and a software called Socialight which enabled the placement of virtual sticky notes around various locations in Brighton.


Anna sampled various locations in the city for bacteria and moulds, revealing this unseen world to us through digital micrographs. Luciana Haill, Ian Helliwell Ollie Glass and Juliet Kac created a series of sound works to accompany the images. Microbiologist John Paul wrote scientific text descriptions of the microbes.

The use of GPS, to map the locations where the microbiological swabs were taken, brought together the microscopic and the macroscopic, drawing a thread between the satellites orbiting the earth and the bacteria at our feet.

Visitors could download the software and wander around the sites receiving SMS, sound files and images to their phones. Due to the nature of Socialight the exhibition is still live and can be viewed now.

I was so impressed by Anna's enthousiasm and the sense of poetry she brings to an invisible world which i would otherwise find as exciting as a citrus juicer that i asked her to give us more details about her work:

The Bio-tracking Walk Source

How did you get interested in bacteria?

I've always been fascinated with microscopic forms, I think from childhood, but about 12 years ago a key area of research for me was the notion of immortality, that led me to an interest in cell biology, looking at immortalised cell lines such as HeLa Cells and I was invited to do a short residency at St Georges Hospital in London in their Clinical Genetics lab, I became increasingly interested in the differences between our media generated notions about science and the deeper story we don't normally get to hear about. The world of normal flora microbiology is really astonishing, to me it's sublime, there are more bacteria on the end of your finger than there are people in the world, I can't really get my head around that.

You told me (if i remember well) that you collaborated with scientists to develop your project. How do you think they perceive your work? Were they interested in your experiments?

Microbiologists seem to love my work because I am studying the things that they don't get to study. You don't become a microbiologist without the same fascination that I have for the microbial world but because of funding and other restrictions they aren't able to study the normal flora. Clinical Microbiology studies that 1% or so of bacteria that can make us ill, the ones I study are considered to be 'of no commercial or medical interest', it's the needle in a haystack thing, there might be something in that haystack worth looking scientifically at but you'd have to go through a huge amount of hay first, it won't produce the quick results or the scientific papers needed to secure funding.

0aabact56.jpgEpistemologically it's an interesting issue, where do we draw the line about what is studied? Money draws that line. But art is judged in other ways by funders, a questioning of our epistemology can be an important issue, the aesthetics of the work, the way the public is engaged is important (in terms of Arts Council England who fund alot of my work), so I can be funded to look at this area as an artist. In terms of scientific support I've been working with Eastbourne District General Hospital (through Arts in Healthcare) and The Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton as well as a number of other collaborators and institutions. The use of digital media is also important to me (I'm looking at looking computer modelling of bacteria and artificial life technology) and I am currently Artist in Residence at The Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at Sussex University, one of the leading Artificial Life research groups in the world, which is an amazing experience.

I should mention here that I am absolutely an artist, I don't consider myself a scientist, or a hybrid. My relationship to science is that I would rather not collaborate (actually I am not sure if that's entirely true), but what I mean is that I don't feel an artist is fully able to respond to scientific information without a proper knowledge of that subject. I am very hands on, I do all my own lab work (to me it's part of the making) and I am studying clinical microbiology as part of my (Fine Art) PhD, so rather than a superficial engagement with the concepts (a few chats with a scientist where an artist hears about some 'cool' ideas and goes about representing them) I'm basically trying to understand the issues and concepts from the inside and respond to them as an artist in the most informed way. There are equally valid arguements for remaining an outsider, I accept that, and interesting work is being made in that way but it's not how I want to go about it, not something that would achieve the results I am looking for.

I feel very strongly about engaging with the widest possible audience and use my skills to get these issues and concepts out to the public, I don't like the way that scientific language almost seems designed to be incomprehensible (or incommensurable), I believe anyone has the ability to understand anything if it is explained properly. Creating threads and networks of knowldege fascinates me, like bringing crocheters and scientists together to crochet a bed cover based on the light microscopy of the bacteria on my bed. It's a learning curve for everyone but the results, in terms of both the personal exchanges that take place and the resulting art object it's very worthwhile.

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Bio-tracking: Using the GPS and Playing the sound works

How much in general do you think that the science world can learn from the art world and vice-versa?

As far as I'm concerened the "claim to truth" that science has made since the Enlightenment is really now open to question. Notions of rational empiricism seem to be under attack as unachievable. The phenomenological relationship of the experimenter to the experiment is now becoming increasingly key. The ability of art to express multiple layers of meaning, from the analytical and the philosophical to the emotional makes it an ideal method to investigate knowledge within this new paradigm, acting, I believe, as a form of meta-knowledge.

Thanks Anna!

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Thought that nothing can beat the Hulger? The Strijk-O-Foon (which i'd roughly translate as Iron-O-Phone) works only for Siemens mobile phones though. Plug the iron, wait for a call (or ring a friend) and get the Strijk-O-Foon experience in its full hot glory.

A work by Jelle de Bruijn.

Via Squeaky from.

We had 3 yesterday: TokTek, alias Tom Verbruggen, The HandyDandy and Cathy van Eck's Hearing Sirens.

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The Handydandy (Bernhard Bauch, Florian Waldner, Gordan Savicic, Julia Staudach, Luc Gross, Nicolaj Kirisits) made a pretty fun gig by playing music on their mobile phones as if they were rock guitars. The phones, used only as interfaces, are connected via Bluetooth to a computer network, a virtual opposite to the "human network" music-band.

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TokTek's performance blew everyone's mind. The artist explores new modes of interaction in live performance. He structures the unbridle clicks and cuts of his circuit bend gadgets to a fragile disturbance. Sampling with a joystick Tom creates unlogic dynamic compositions. Started by playing an old vinyl of lessons of french, then went wild with buttons, keyboards and knobs, later grabbed a joystick, then had a go at a guitar, kid's toys, etc.

0moedercak.jpgBy looking for information about Tom Verbruggen online i discovered another of his work called Moederkoek, which translated is mother-cake but refers in English to the placebo. Tom performs while his mother bakes a cake in a self-assembled kitchen. Tom samples his mum's baking and the sounds its produces in real-time to realize an improvised composition. At the end of the performance, the cake is baked and served to the audience.

He also creates installations such as the Crack-Canvas. Using STEIM crackle box hardware, the artist has created paintings that produce sound. Each painting can produce sound by itself but when connected with other paintings forms a ‘painting orchestra’. By connecting cables between the paintings, the sound changes, while the cables length, colour and form, form a drawing on the wall or in the space the paintings are hanging.

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Crack Canvas and Crackle Canvas

In the live version of the ‘Crackle-Canvas’, Tom invites the public to grab the cables and make their own compositions.

Tom Verbruggen is part of the New Interfaces for Performances programme.

Images of The HandyDandy performance and of TokTek's.

Several posters were presented at the Mobile Music Workshop yesterday afternoon, a good opportunity to discover new projects and have a chat with their author.


Pocket Gamelan (PDF), developed by Greg Schiemer and Mark Havryliv, couldn't make it to Amsterdam on time (seems to be somewhere in the caring hands of the post) but that won't prevent me from mentioning it. The interactive musical interface allows non-expert performers to create microtonal music using bluetooth-enabled mobile phones. Players swing the handsets on the end of a cord in a circular trajectory. As the phone is swung it produces audible artefacts such as Doppler shift and chorusing which are generated as a bi-product of movement. The device works like a network of operations in which melodies and the speed at which they’re played can be altered.

Pocket Gamelan
, draws on Schiemer's "Tupperware Gamelan" instruments of the 70s and 80s. The custom-made electronic instruments, housed in plastic kitchenware, were designed for non-expert players and used in dance and performance (via.)

Video 1 and 2.

Related: the 1999 performance Improvisation for Two Altered Telephones.

Just back from a trip to Kreuzberg where i discovered an exhibition space called Ballhaus Naunynstraße. They are showing until tomorrow (April 30, from 8 p.m to 9 pm.) three sound installations which, coupled with some really nice falafels like they do only in that neighbourhood, made my Sunday afternoon.

As you enter the building you're greeted by 17 Hippies - Das Hip-O-Phon, a sound sculpture by Christopher Blenkinsop and Klaus Wagner. The wooden staircase that leads to the gallery is occupied by organ pipes up to 20 meters in length which create sound with material from the German band 17 Hippies.


Up the stairs, turn left and enter the room of O Telephone, an 8 channel sound installation developed by Berlin-based Canadian artist Don Ritter.

Six modified 1960’s telephones are installed in circle on black pedestals within a darkened room. They randomly ring, each with its own distinctive sound. If you pick up a phone that is ringing, a powerful yoga-like “om? is heard through the handset and through the speaker located where the dial of the phone used to be.

If other people answer other ringing phones, the resulting “om? sounds will pan through all the answered phones. Like the ringing, each phone has its own "om" voice, some male, other female. The telephones will eventually begin a composition comprised of the ringing and “om? sounds if they are not answered by viewers. The best way to enjoy the piece is to stand in the middle of the circle of phones, then it feels like the sounds are turning around you. There are 35 different voices. The artist actually used the voice of the people in his yoga class when he lived in New York.


I liked the installation for two reasons: first of all because the old phones, though modified, keep on being beautiful and even get a mysterious touch in the process. The experience was quite engaging as well. I was alone in the room going from one phone to the other, not sure i was understanding what was happening at first (that's a bad habit i have: i try to play then i read the accompanying notice) but totally enjoying it.

0tanzincshuih.jpgDown another staircase, turn left again to interact with Ingo Kniest's Tanz in Sicht, a series of life-size portraits individual taken out of the dance floor to pose for the artist in a mobile photo studio.

Sensors track your movements, and according to them, trigger pre-programmed audio loops, turning the space into a living soundscape. Observers of Kniest's shock-frozen portraits become the directors of new repetitive beats. Relationships here are reversed. The ecstatic dancers are captured utterly still; the visitors become the ever-moving mass.

Other art works using old-style telephones: the Four Ophones, Improvisation for Two Altered Telephones, Phones hanging from the ceiling; the Telephone Sheep.

0urbancamiopji.jpgUrban Interface Berlin is THE event of the moment i was really looking forward to enjoy slowly under the sunny days. Both an exhibition and research project, it aims to explore the interspaces between public and private urban space. From what i've seen so far, the selection of projects does a fantastic job at showing how broad and multifaceted the theme can be. All the artworks are also very accessible. Although i'm not crazy for all of them (but i'm getting ridiculously picky), i think that anyone --passerby, activist or new media art lover-- can engage with them and go back home with some elements to reflect upon. UIB lasts several weeks. Alas! i am spending most of that time out of Berlin.

I managed to attend the opening but ended up talking with people and didn't see any of the pieces (well, briefly and from afar). That's why i never go to openings. The day after i was off to that Milan design porn event. Today, hurray, i spent the afternoon chasing the UIB installations throughout the city. Tomorrow and next week i'm out of town again but i'll spend Saturday checking out the other installations.

Right! First stop on Ackerstrasse for Niklas Goldbach's fake construction signs.

Installed on two abandonned pieces of lands, they proudly notify passersby that some classy condominiums are going to be built on the land. One with office spaces "right on the pulse of the city", the other being targeted at well-off families. All amenities will be provided to ensure that buyers can enjoy a “safe? and comfortable life: shopping malls, a doorman, private parks, Starbuck cafe and Haagen Dazs icecream parlour on the street level, etc.).

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The images of the "future buildings" are in fact caricatures of existing buildings and city quarters. They are developed by the private sector and are increasingly shaping the cityscape of Berlin.

The headquarters of UIB are on Torstrasse, at the Sparwasser HQ gallery. That's where you can get to see and borrow for a few days The Head. The wearable sculpture, created by Finnish artist Laura Beloff, contains an “eye? which is a camera connected to a mobile phone which is in turn connected to the internet. Images and sounds are automatically recorded as soon as you send an SMS to The Head's phone (just text 0170 5544514.) The recorded files will then be relayed to you via MMS. The public can access all the images generated online.

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The Head has the mission to document public and private spaces throughout the event. However the wearer has no control on this access to her/his life from outside. As you can see on the images, The Head has partially melted. Made of plastic it didn't quite agree with the current sunny weather that Berlin is enjoying for a couple of months.

The image on the top of this post shows Daniel Jolliffe's Berliner Stimmen project. A yellow sculpture with a big red loudspeaker is mounted behind a bicycle. 3 times a week, Jolliffe is cycling through the borough of Mitte, Wedding and Gesundbrunnen, broadcasting previously recorded one-minute calls (digit 0800-7447000, leaving a message is free if you have a German phone number). The past realisations of the project under the name of One Free Minute in San José and Vancouver have shown that the callers use this public platform to utter private statements and stories as well as commercial announcements and political speeches. Listen to the recorded messages.

Images on flickr.

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